Short summary - Clownen Jac - Hjalmar Bergman

Scandinavian literature summaries - 2023

Short summary - Clownen Jac
Hjalmar Bergman

When Benjamin Bork, known simply as Benbe, turns twenty-two, he is about to go to America and there to carry out one of his many projects that have one goal: to get rich without spending too much effort. Nothing keeps the young man at home. Benbe's father, who belonged to an old family of respectable burghers, died when Benbe was still a child, his mother also died, having done her best to give her son a harsh upbringing. However, she succeeded a little in this: gifted with an inquisitive mind, Benbe is distinguished by frivolity and inconstancy. He managed to become a bachelor of philosophy and graduate from a trade school, but still does not know what to do. With youthful nonchalance, Benbe hopes that, once in America, in the country of "unlimited possibilities", he will somehow be able to find a place in life. The money for the trip is given to him by his maternal uncle, Lengsel, who, together with his wife and two daughters, Vera and Karolina, lives in the Vernoye estate. From his uncle, the young man learns that their relative, Jonathan Bork, cousin of the late father Benbe, lives in America . Uncle tells Benba about how Jonathan ended up in America. Jonathan, who was not so much raised as spoiled by his grandmother Bork, was an extremely unbalanced child and amazed all his relatives with his eccentric behavior. However, at the same time, the boy was distinguished by sincerity, good nature and was so nervous and shy that his grandmother put up with his antics and did not dare to resort to severe punishments.

One night, young Jonathan robbed the jewelry shop of the Jew Havenstein, and gave away all the trinkets to school friends. The scandal was going to be hushed up, but the tomboy did not wait for the denouement and, having stolen a few hundred dollars from his grandmother's closet, disappeared. After some time, letters from him began to come from America, from which it was clear that his life was not easy. After the money was sent to him, no news came from him, and twelve years later Jonathan wrote a letter to his relatives asking if he could visit his grandmother. For some reason, she decided that he would appear hungry and in rags, and was ready to forgive her grandson and even find him a decent job, but when she found out that Jonathan had become fabulously rich, she, to the amazement of all relatives, put him out the door. The proud old woman could not accept the fact that Jonathan, secretly acting through the jeweler Havenstein, bought her estate, which she was forced to sell, and invited her to become its owner again. But most of all, my grandmother resented the fact that Jonathan acquired untold wealth, becoming a famous clown throughout America. She grew up in a simple peasant family and could not help but despise the people of this profession. Jonathan stayed for a few weeks at the Vernoye estate, and then arrived only two years later, after the death of his grandmother, and since then no one has heard from him.

Vera, Benbe's cousin, an ugly, sickly and eccentric girl, hands him a sealed bag to give to their famous relative, and Benbe leaves. In America, he fails to get a job, especially since he does not really strive for this, and when he lives all the money, he tries to meet Jonathan Bork, known to the public under the pseudonym Yak Truckbuck. But this turns out to be not an easy task: Yak's secretary looks through all the letters that are written to him, and the entrance to the huge clown's estate is reliably guarded. After several unsuccessful attempts, Benbe despairs of meeting Yak, but he himself comes to him, and Benbe sees a frail and timid person in front of him. Convinced that Benbe, despite his frivolity and propensity for adventures, is an honest and decent young man, the clown invites him to his estate, in which almost all household items, including furniture, were taken out of his grandmother's house in Sweden. The estate is a bizarre conglomeration of numerous courtyards, picturesque lawns, buildings and covered passages in which you can get lost: this is a real labyrinth. In addition to Yak himself, his young wife lives here, the former dancer Siv, an elderly couple of Swedish servants, an elderly Austrian major de Grazie and a black porter Longfellow with his wife and a bunch of children. Secretly from Yak, his secretary, Abel Rash, the son of the jeweler Havenstein, comes to Benba. He insists that Benbe leave America as soon as possible, and promises him a large sum from the Yak Truckback syndicate, which deals with the financial affairs of the famous clown. The four owners of the syndicate - influential politicians and big businessmen Adam, Israel, Bych, Perch, as well as the brother of the oil tycoon, neurologist Henny - are seriously concerned that Benbe's arrival could disrupt Truckbuck's planned tour of America: a lot of money has already been put into this business and they do not intend to lose a considerable percentage of the profits. The clown finds out about Benbe's conversation with Rash and becomes furious. He is going to fire the secretary and take Benbe in his place. Moreover, Yak announces to the owners of the syndicate that he will not sign the contract, since he has completely exhausted all his creative possibilities, and performances have long become a real torture for him.

But the syndicate is not going to give up their money so easily. Then Yak announces that he is abolishing the syndicate and instructs his lawyer to lead the trial. Benbe is amazed to see that he is embroiled in a difficult and dangerous game. The young man remembers the sealed bag, which his cousin Vera asked to give to Yak. The clown opens the bag: it contains a lady's glove, a pair to the one that his beloved gave Yak many years ago as a keepsake. Yak confesses to Benbe that he had a brief affair with Maria, Benbe's aunt and his uncle's wife. The clown still fondly remembers her. Yak begs the young man to go to Sweden and bring back Vera, their daughter, the fruit of their secret love. Benbe learns that his aunt secretly corresponded with Yak from her husband and even sent him photos of Vera.

Benbe comes to Sweden and woo Vera's sister, pretty and cheerful Karolina. It turns out that on the bag that Vera gave to Yak through Benbe, it was written by Maria's hand that it should be handed over to Jonathan Bork only after her death, but the eccentric Vera decided to do her own thing. Benbe conveys Yak's request to Maria Langsel, who agrees to send Vera to her real father. Langsel guesses everything, but does not show it. He sincerely regrets his wife Maria, especially since she does not have long to live: she has liver cancer.

Benbe with Caroline and Vera leave for America. Benbe has grandiose plans: he is going to become a journalist, and in this he is helped by his new acquaintance, an influential Swedish businessman who takes the young man under his protection. Yak receives a letter from Maria in which a dying woman bitterly tells him everything she thinks of him: he is a pitiful and low egoist, he is "her shame, a dirty stain on her name." The clown falls into a severe depression and is unable to enter the arena. To delay the day of the show, he deliberately falls off the trapeze during practice and breaks his ankle. His daughter arrives, but the relationship between them does not add up. Vera inherited from her father exactly those character traits that do not enjoy the love of others - eccentricity, uncontrollability, irritability, selfishness and painful ambition, but at the same time she is completely devoid of any talents. She does not understand that her father is tired of fame and despises his audience, the girl is flattered by her father's popularity, and she is pleased to bask in the rays of his glory. Desperately, Yak realizes that he has nothing in common with his daughter, and she demands more and more attention from him and does not tolerate anyone near him, even his wife Siv.

The day of Yak's performance is approaching. In a huge hall, the audience is looking forward to dangerous acrobatic stunts and funny jokes of their pet. But Yak disappoints the audience: he delivers an impromptu monologue, either referring to the “Clown Catechism” he wrote a few days before the performance, or reasoning aloud, as if he were alone in this hall. The clown expresses to the idle crowd everything he thinks about life, about art, about love, about the appointment of an artist. But no one understands that this is Yak's confession to himself: everyone is waiting for him to finally start a fun performance. The clown becomes ill and is led off the stage. After some time, Yak gives in to the demands of the syndicate and performs in a vulgar little play composed for the needs of the public. All this time, Vera is tormented by idleness and, out of boredom, tries to seduce first Major de Grazie, who is afraid of her, and then Yak's secretary, Abel Rash.

The clown thinks of nothing but peace. But about five hundred eminent guests come to his estate to take part in a grandiose ball, which is given in honor of Yak. The preparations for the feast fall on the shoulders of Major de Grazie, who arranges colossal fireworks to the deafening sounds of jazz. Yak is so confused by surprise that his heart almost breaks, but the guests think that this is his next trick and laugh at how cleverly he plays deadly horror. Someone releases monkeys, the clown's favorite animals, from their cages, and they rush around the park. The guests, excited by music, wine and dances of half-naked teenagers dressed as Indians, begin to behave more and more unbridled. Vera enjoys a holiday that threatens to turn into an orgy, and openly flirts with young people, but none of them takes her seriously. The clown is thoughtful and sad. He looks at Vera with bitterness, pity and contempt. Siv, who alone understands what is going on in Yak's soul, fears that he will give vent to his irritation, but Yak tells her that he is a clown and will be able to hide his true feelings. A few days later, Yak receives a notice of the death of Maria Langsel.